The Great Sphinx of Giza.

Depicting Man or Beast? Can You Solve the Riddle of the Great Sphinx of Giza?


The Great Sphinx of Giza is one of the most fantastic monuments of ancient Egypt. A monolith carved into the limestone bedrock of the Giza plateau, the statue depicts a mythical creature with the head of a man and the body of a lion. According to legend, the Sphinx protects the tombs of the great pharaohs of Egypt and has done so ever since 2500 BC. However, in recent times, much debate has swirled around the origins and nature of this statue. Some say that erosion patterns actually indicate the Sphinx was built hundreds, if not thousands, of years earlier. Others suggest that the oddly disproportionate head suggest that originally, the statue was not of a sphinx at all, but rather of a lion or perhaps even the dog god, Anubis. As nobody may ever know the truth for certain, the Riddle of the Sphinx lives on.

The Great Sphinx of Giza.

The Great Sphinx of Giza. Source: Public Domain

The Mythical Sphinx

A sphinx is a mythical figure in Greek and Egyptian mythology. It is typically portrayed as having the head of a man, the body of a lion, and the wings of an eagle. A sphinx can be male or female, but is always cunning and merciless. Usually, in myths, a sphinx asks riddles and if a person answers incorrect, he is eaten. Sometimes the sphinx terrorizes a village. For example, the sphinx of Boeotian Thebes “the most famous in legend, was said to have terrorized the people by demanding the answer to a riddle taught her by the Muses—What is it that has one voice and yet becomes four-footed and two-footed and three-footed? —and devouring a man each time the riddle was answered incorrectly. Eventually,  Oedipus gave the proper answer: man, who crawls on all fours in infancy, walks on two feet when grown, and leans on a staff in old age. The sphinx thereupon killed herself.” (The Editors of the Encyclopedia Britannica, 2016)



Oedipus and the Sphinx of Thebes, Red Figure Kylix, c. 470 BC, from Vulci, attributed to the Oedipus Painter, Vatican Museums.

Oedipus and the Sphinx of Thebes, Red Figure Kylix, c. 470 BC, from Vulci, attributed to the Oedipus Painter, Vatican Museums. (Marcus Cyron/ CC BY SA 2.0 )

At other times, as in the Great Sphinx of Giza, the creature is said to be guarding something and will not let anyone pass unless they correctly answer a riddle.

Who Built the Sphinx of Giza?

Conventional wisdom holds that the Sphinx of Giza was built during the 4th Dynasty of the Old Kingdom of Egypt under the reign of Pharaoh Khafre (2558 – 2532 BC), around the same time that the Great Pyramids were being built. The statue’s face was supposed to be made in the Pharaoh’s image. Yet, one cannot help but be confused by the appearance of such a little head on top of such a gigantic body. “If we know anything about the ancient Egyptians and their statues, we know that they always got the proportions right. In fact, we could say that they were evidently obsessed with correct proportions in everything. So why would they carve what is still even today the world's largest stone statue and get the proportions wrong?” (Temple, 2009)

Giza Plateau - Great Sphinx - front view, note the proportions of the head to larger body.

Giza Plateau - Great Sphinx - front view, note the proportions of the head to larger body. (Daniel Mayer/ CC BY SA 3.0 )

In addition, the face of the Sphinx does not look like other depictions of Khafre. “Known depictions of Khafre on statues and the Sphinx reveal many differences, though one might defend – though no one seems to have done so – that the sculptors got the precise features of Khafre slightly wrong, because of the uniqueness, the scale and challenge of working with the native rock at Gizeh, rather than with the much smaller scale and tested methodology of his known statues, some of which were recovered from the Valley Temple right next to the Sphinx.” (Coppens, 2016).

Some say that the Sphinx is more in the style of Pharaoh Khufu, Khafre’s father, and was therefore built sometime during his reign (2589 – 2566 B.C.). Others argue that it was built by Khufu’s other son, the little-known Pharaoh Djedefre (2528 – 2520 B.C.) in honor of Khufu, which explains why was in Khufu’s style and why it does not look like Khafre – it could have been made in Khufu’s likeness.

Head of a statue of Pharaoh Khafre (Einsamer Schütze/CC BY SA 3.0), and head in ivory of Pharaoh Khufu exposed in Altes Museum (Marcus Cyron/CC BY SA 3.0). Do you see a resemblance between either pharaoh with the Sphinx?

Left-right: Head of a statue of Pharaoh Khafre (Einsamer Schütze/ CC BY SA 3.0 ), and head in ivory of Pharaoh Khufu exposed in Altes Museum (Marcus Cyron/ CC BY SA 3.0 ). Do you see a resemblance between either pharaoh with the Sphinx?

The Sphinx as a Giant Lion

However, none of these theories explain the jarring disproportionate nature of the sphinx’s head. Historical architect Dr. Jonathan Foyle has said “the head and body were massively out of proportion…[and] the reason for this could be that the Sphinx originally had an entirely different head - that of a lion… To early Egyptians, the lion was a much more potent symbol of power than the human face” (Daily Mail Reporter, 2008). At this point in history, lions still inhabited Giza and the surrounding areas. Whether it was due to the erosion of the soft limestone or for political reasons, supporters of the lion-head theory argue that the Great Sphinx was remodeled to have the face of man, possibly of a pharaoh, an act that reduced the overall size of its head significantly.

An Egyptian lion statue.

An Egyptian lion statue. (Yortw/ CC BY 2.0 )

The Egyptian God of the Dead

Yet another theory, somewhat less widely supported but far more interesting, holds that the Great Sphinx’s head was indeed originally that of an animal, but not of a lion. It was originally a dog and represented the Egyptian god of the dead, Anubis. As Robert Temple observes, “the body of the Sphinx is not feline, as lions are known for a back that is curved and possessing a mane that is absent on the Sphinx” rather, the body is in the shape of a crouching dog (Coppens, 2016). There is much circumstantial evidence to support this theory: First, Anubis is the god of the dead and is believed to protect the deceased and to prevent the unworthy from crossing the river Nile to the underworld, like the role played by the guard dog Cerberus in Greek mythology. In addition,

“following the Book of the Dead, a statue of Anubis was used in rituals to do with the deceased, and specifically the washing of the parts of the deceased body that had been placed in the four Canopic jars…[and] this might also explain why the Sphinx enclosure might have been a moat – filled with water – for ritual washing of the pharaoh’s body. Equally, seeing that Anubis was the god of embalming, one could argue whether the embalming of a or several pharaohs therefore occurred in the so-called Sphinx Temple.” (Coppens, 2016).

Was the sphinx initially designed as a statue of Anubis?

Was the sphinx initially designed as a statue of Anubis? (public domain)

Finally, “the best-known image of Anubis is the Anubis statue found inside the tomb of King Tutankhamen, which shows him as a crouching dog” (Temple, 2009). If the head of the statue was originally that of a pointy-eared jackal, as Anubis is often portrayed, then it supports the notion that erosion eventually ruined its ears and maybe its snout. The Pharaoh’s then sought to restore the statue and remodeled it to have a head of a man, transforming it into the popular mythical figure, the sphinx.

Representation of Anubis from the tomb of Tutankhamen.

Representation of Anubis from the tomb of Tutankhamen. ( CC BY SA 2.5 )

Top Image: The Great Sphinx of Giza. Source: BigStockPhoto

By Kerry Sullivan


Coppens, Philip. "The Sphinx Mystery."  The Sphinx Mystery . Philip Coppens, 2016.

Daily Mail Reporter. "The Great Sphinx of Giza Reborn as a Lion in the Desert."  Daily Mail Online . Associated Newspapers, 08 Dec. 2008.

The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. "Sphinx."  Encyclopædia Britannica . Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 01 June 2016.

Temple, Robert. "What Is Wrong with the Sphinx?"  Graham Hancock Official Website . Graham Hancock, 27 May 2009.


Hello Kerry,

What a most intriguing article you've shared thank you for posting this piece.

It's possible it might Be Both of Them; The Jackal being Anubus & The Sphnix Lion we only need too find out if there were any Half-lions/Half-Men deities worshipped somewhere in The Ancient World perhaps declared a king of some pantheon from there we could figure out the storyline being told at that Time Line.

No one ever reads between the lines. The riddle was "What has four feet in the morning, two in the day, and three at night." Oedipus answered a man. He got the riddle wrong. The answer was a lion. Lions sleep all day but wake up to scavenge in the afternoon and hunt at night and the early morning. He killed the person who asked the riddle and claimed to have gotten it right but a witness saw the whole thing. Creon knew this and set Oedipus up to marry his mother. It's possible Oedipus changed the head of the monument to fit his answer to the riddle. Or someone built it to ridicule the memory the person we call Oedipus. I suspect that type of inside power flexing and ridicule happens amongst the elites more than us little folk realize. I mean look at obelisks!

Barry Sears's picture

I remain stunned why the World zodiac connections have been lost. The anatomical pattern is expressed in all of life. Israel the historical land of Virgo correlates to Virgo. Leo correlates to the Sphinx. These are anatomical positions. From the heads zone of Easter Island to the junction of the Merlion. See how all of our Worlds animals, fit this pattern now.    

AintGottaClue's picture

That the original was either a lioness, or Anubis makes sense. It is obvious the current head is not the original. It is also, I believe, true, that the ancient "gods" were alien visitors (including the God of the Bible), and they engaged in genetic manipulation of small groups of humans, providing them with advanced knowledge, and thereby "kick-starting" advanced civilization on earth. How else to explain the sudden, literally overnight, eruption of advanced civilizations such as the Sumerians? Even "conventional historians" admit they have no clue where the Sumerians originated, or how they acquired their knowledge. There is no "prehistoric" lead-up to the sudden, full-blown Sumerian civilization, which was complete with everything from Animal Husbandry to Zoology!! Religion, sophisticated government, agriculture, professional castes from Bakers to Jewelers, scribes, courts and legal system, schools, animal husbandry, construction engineering, you name it, they had it ALL!! Including their own written history of having been helped by, yup, aliens, who they called "gods," and who lived among them for quite some time!! Imagine that! History is MUCH more complex than the conventional historians would have us believe!!

History is nowhere near as well known as we think it is.

Barry Sears's picture

The simple message of the sphinx is bound within the structure of Nut. The figure represents the Celestial path of which we pass through and was depicted as a body from head to foot. Each zone of the Celestial body connects to the zones of the Worlds body and to interpret the energies of the Celestial order, studying the zones of the World was essential. Ancient explorers and scientific studies divided the World into zones and it was realised that animals and life changed from the same pattern as a complete body. Animal features varied in different regions of the World. This was recorded on the circular zodiac of Dendera, the World record and this rotates in the opposite direction to the Celestial zodiac of Nut. 

Each zone is of a different animal feature found in the different regions of the World. The ram has a horn feature connecting to the top of the head, the bull has a distinctively strong neck....The lion represents the heart land, the lung, torso region of the body and this is the position at the sphinx in Egypt. The zodiac is stamped in great monuments and recorded in all zones around the equator of our World. Beside Leo the Sphinx is the womb of our anatomy and this was represented as Virgo. Israel beside Egypt is the land of Virgo, Stonehenge is the Cancer sign, to the heads of Easter Island....

Although the Celestial zodiac, made of Earthly forms is well known, what seems to be lost is it's connection to the World and the World zodiac correlation. The Sphinx marks an anatomical position and can easily been seen as this in my picture and in the zodiac pictures on the gallery pages. 


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